What was Merging Realities?
Merging Realities was the world’s first full-day conference that you could attend in virtual reality and took place on April 26th 2018. It was hosted by Mike McCready and students from Lethbridge College based in Canada and made possible by Doghead Simulations‘ Rumii platform based in Seattle, Washington. I had booked my ticket well in advance as this was a big deal and I didn’t want to miss it! I’m based in Scotland and can only usually stalk event hashtags to learn about event outputs that are impossible for me to attend geographically speaking. The topic of this event just so happened to be all things virtual, augmented and mixed reality too. Winner! You also didn’t need to be the owner of a VR headset to attend as there was a WebVR version you could enter using desktop. Or there was the Twitch channel you could enter and simply ‘observe’ the event as it was being streamed live across the world. I used a combination of desktop for the VR event and mobile to watch the livestream. First thing’s first, had to register for Rumii and create my Avatar:
Why a conference in VR?
The event itself started late in the afternoon (UK time) so it meant I could attend at my leisure after work. In fact it was ideal! I was able to be there, explore, listen, learn and network. I saw some pretty cool role models ‘in the flesh’ instead of being static pictures on social media platforms. Then I was able to log out, pick up my kids, make dinner and complete some chores then log back in to the conference again. It was flexible enough to allow you to come and go as required meaning I didn’t disrupt any sessions. It complimented my life and time commitments without the need of booking travel, accommodation or hassle arranging childcare. I wasn’t tired from travelling, didn’t need to adjust to the different timezone or stress about pre-planning my route to get to the venue on time. I just logged in and I was in the venue and simply logged out when I had to leave again. Simple as that. #welcometothefuture
There was plenty of room for us all in the main conference areas – we had a choice of Lecture Hall A or Lecture Hall B (2 talks were happening at any one time). We weren’t able to see who was talking or the theme of the talk using the menu though. It didn’t cause any issues as you simply selected your choice of room and instantly teleported there. If you changed your mind you could teleport to the other just as easy by using the main menu. There was a sound alert when people entered/left a room though so I did feel a little embarrassed in case I put any presenters off by causing that distraction. But to be honest, as a participant, you barely noticed it at all. In fact it was quite an upbeat catchy jingle. I actually grew fond of hearing it! In addition to the 2 main conference halls you had 3 separate meeting rooms each for a specific theme (Health, Education and Business) and a Lobby. As a fan of Social VR I felt the scale to be impressive, the atmosphere to be relaxing and the graphical detail to be realistic enough for me to settle into my new environment quite quickly.
What did we hear about?
The first session was Immersive Computing at Google presented by Alex Katzen. It was interesting to hear Google’s take on the changing digital landscape. I was very impressed and inspired the more I listened during the session. Previously I knew Google were involved with Daydream but didn’t really appreciate just how involved they were elsewhere. Alex unveiled the Google & Lenovo Solo Mirage VR Headset too. We heard about their partner’s, their involvement, their propositions and Google’s vision for the future. Overall it was an excellent presentation, full of insight that I would have not been able to get had I not been at this specific conference. I was already loving conferences in VR – I knew I would but this was over and above my expectations. Not bad for only the first session… We had a full day of knowledge sharing left to soak up!
Meeting role models
Next up was Alan Smithson from MetaVRse who is an absolute role model of mine. If you are interested in VR and AR then I recommend you follow his LinkedIn posts. This would be my first time seeing Alan deliver a conference talk and I was mega excited about hearing what he had to say. His company MetaVRse is working in all sorts of interesting avenues meaning he has plenty of interesting stories to share with us. Alan’s talk did not disappoint. He not only brought amazing insight, inspiration and encouragement to the audience but he also brought with him humor. He expressed his love for the ability to throw confetti in the air using the Rumii platform and got clarification on how people could do it. (Only desktop users were able to by pressing the spacebar). Then we all had a lark about throwing confetti lol! It was so refreshing to see someone delivering a session and having fun with the technology as he did. This is what it is all about! He gets it. He wasn’t a white collared business man selling us a pitch. Alan was messing around with the functions that Rumii offered, he popped a spaceman into the audience to demonstrate 3D models. It was floating around us, a giant spaceman! The famous MetaVRse watch also made a 3D model appearance. He shared market trends, important numbers and even shared how he personally continually learns about this technology sector and from which resources too. For the finale of Alan’s talk he played us some Virtual Insanity music that we all throw confetti to. It was marvelous. The energy was through the roof. I ask you – have you ever thrown confetti at the end of hearing a world class presentation during a conference in the real world?
(Video provided my Neil Singh – thanks again for the permission to publish it in this blog)
Sadly this was when I hit my break from the conference so I could turn back to my family and home duties for a while. My avatar was able to stay in the conference but I had changed my status to ‘away’ meaning I wasn’t visible to anybody there. Thanks to twitch, I was secretly watching whilst washing my dishes though ;o) I sadly missed Steve Bambury’s session, which was another I was looking forward to attending in advance. (I have since been informed that Twitch have kept videos of the conference that you can still watch. I will post the link in the comments of this blog for you).
Mesmerised by Immersion
The following sessions covered a mixture of design, technical detail and engagement. We listened to insights and saw more 3D models that are being used commercially. Listening to the various AR and VR examples proved to me that there are people out there making this technology work for them using profitably business models. I would have liked to have heard more about that subject. How are creatives making money in this industry not as one offs but by producing consistent revenue? It is a common question in the field and one that nobody seems to want to share their detailed answers to. (This is not aimed specifically at any of the presenters who showcased their work during their Merging Realities talks, just a general observation and a personal frustration).
The presenters I listened to were:
Immersion/Engagement presented by Connor Gottfried
Challenges & Opportunities of a VR game startup presented by Lloyd Summers
Inclusion presented by Rosalina Hernandez
Looking to the Future
Next up was the magnificent futurist Cathy Hackl to share some forward thinking thoughts. She shared some amazing video clips, as well as some current use case studies along with stories of the future world. Having heard many a person claim to be a futurist cover old ground on what has been previously said I wasn’t sure that I was going to hear anything that I hadn’t heard already on this topic. But I was wrong. Cathy blew my mind. She didn’t just blow my mind with a one off little golden nugget of intel. She had me hanging on every single word. I’ve taken notes to revisit pretty much all of the examples she shared to gain better understanding for myself. I want to be able to digest and reflect on the use cases and explanations of spatial computing that she shared with us. So if like me, you don’t want to miss any fascinating industry use case then follow Cathy on social media. (As well as subscribe to this blog obviously… shining the light on user case studies is the purpose of the Suzanne Showcasing VR blog afterall!). Cathy was asked plenty of questions and did a tremendous job to close the amazing full day VRAR conference in VR. What a blast!!!
In summary we heard from highly respectable individuals from the VR AR industry. We heard about content creation, designing, coding, modelling, engagement, platforms, headsets, partnerships, user experience, user engagement, market trends, self development & learning, challenges & opportunities, inclusion and preparing ourselves for the future. We met with like-minded people from all across our wonderful planet and I am proud to have represented Scotland. I love the map above that shows where everyone was attending from. A real mixture of people, all with the same common interests. It was absolutely superb! Let’s do it all again next year! Hopefully see you there next time 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read through this article and share the experience of the World’s first full-day conference in VR. In the words of Alan Smithson, ‘Awesome guys, thank you so much. Have a good one. Bye guys. Thank you’.
(For those of you interested, I will post Neil Singh’s blog that covers the full account of the conference to help fill in the gaps that I didn’t manage to cover with my own experience. I’ll also post a link to the Twitch account for Merging Realities so you can see if for yourself too).
Until next time my friends!
Suzanne Showcasing VR